International Gender Balancing Reforms - Kyle Beardsley et al. publishes new research

Monday, August 6, 2018
UN Photo/Christopher Herwig

Gender balancing in the security sector is an increasingly common reform in postconflict countries, especially in the presence of peacekeeping missions. The UN has repeatedly stressed that increased representation of women in security forces (and other traditionally male-dominated institutions) helps improve overall peace and security for all. Our theoretical priors suggest that gender balancing may have a number of implications for processes that mediate larger state-building goals, including unit cohesion, operational effectiveness with respect to sexual and gender-based violence, and organizational norms of inclusivity.

In our experiment, adding more women increased unit task cohesion and increased the participation and influence of women. We find no statistically significant evidence of less collegiality (social cohesion) as more women are added to teams and that all-women teams have the greatest amount of similarity between individual preferences and group decisions (task cohesion).

We find no evidence to suggest, however, that simply adding more women would increase group (or individual) sensitivity to women's issues. The LNP women in our study were no more sensitive to sexual and gender-based violence issues than men, all things being equal. We also find that, although there is an increase in participation and influence by women, male beliefs about women's roles in policing do not improve with the inclusion of women. Moreover, we find some evidence of an intrusiveness effect, as the participation and noncollegiality of men are highest when the men are outnumbered.

Interestingly, one of the main determinants of task cohesion, participation, and sensitivity to sexual and gender-based violence is not individual-level gender or group-level gender composition, but rather overall competence.27 This suggests that security sector reform, at least in its goal of improving police responsiveness to sexual and gender-based violence, should focus not only on gender balancing, but also on training police officers to increase competence, as this appears to improve overall operational effectiveness more broadly.

That being said, it is possible that our study misses longer-term effects. The positive outcomes anticipated by proponents of gender balancing may become stronger over time, as suggested by Finseraas et al. (2016). Regardless, our experiments provide important insight into group dynamics within security organizations in which groups are created ad hoc to work on operations, as often occurs in police forces.

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